Shake Hands With The Devil

Based on the book by the same title, Shake Hands With The Devil chronicles the horrendous experiences of Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire of the Canadian Forces, who headed up the 1994 United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda during the outbreak of that country’s genocidal civil war between rival Hutus and Tutsis.

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, this Canadian production, filmed on location in Rwanda, serves as a scathing indictment of humanity in general, and the UN in particular, for turning a blind eye to the human carnage that took place in the former Belgian colony. Hamstrung by UN orders not to interfere, his men given virtually no ammunition and instructed to only fire if fired upon, the movie chronicles the events that left Dallaire, a once proud and hardened career military officer, broken and teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Unlike 2004’s Hotel Rwanda, which chronicled the same events through the smaller story of Paul Rusesabagina, the manager a Kigali Hotel, Shake Hands With The Devil approaches the Rwandan tragedy from a broader perspective, with mixed results. While Spottiswoode places the focus on Dallaire’s experiences, which range from playing military goodwill ambassador, to struggling to find ways to protect the innocent, and playing dancing pony to insulated and indifferent UN mandarins, the scope is somewhat too broad, leaving the viewer feeling like an outsider looking at a holocaust from a distance, and through bullet-proof glass. UN officials as well as diplomats from France and the US are given cursory walk-ons, with little character development nor insight into their short-sighted actions. Instead, the audience is almost expected to approach this film with prior background knowledge about events leading up to the genocide.

Without trying to appear insensitive, as a viewer, a better result might have been yielded if some of the copious screen time devoted to images of Dallaire and his men wading through bodies had instead been given to a closer examination of the motives (or lack thereof) behind the Rwandan abandonment on the part the UN and its principal movers and shakers. On the plus side, Dupuis’s portrayal of Dallaire is among the most eerily accurate renditions by an actor in quite some time. Not only do the two share a striking resemblance, but Dupuis seems to almost become the general in every aspect of his being. As a Canadian familiar with the sight of Dallaire in news reports and interviews, Dupuis’s performance is nothing short of impressive. Though flawed, Shake Hands With The Devil is still a powerful and must see film. As Dallaire himself says to his men: “We will stay to bear witness to that which the world does not want to see.” If nothing else, that alone is reason enough to make time for this film.
Official Site
Shake hands with the Devil at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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